For a few years now, I’ve heard about celebrities using holograms on their tours. There was recently one announced with the late, great Whitney Houston. Before I watched the news coverage, I thought her hologram would look the way you see them in the movies. A faint blue light. A weird, blobby outline of a human. But it looked pretty realistic. Like an actual human.
I had to admit her hologram was pretty cool, even though the thought of attending a concert with someone who was no longer alive made me uncomfortable. It felt a little gross. Exploitative. Sad.
My boyfriend, on the other hand, was fascinated by the idea. He was studying engineering at his university, three states away, and started doing research on holograms. He found a start-up company that was offering cash to anyone who agreed to try out their newest products. One package was built for long-distance couples, so he begged me to try it out.
“It might be a little creepy,” he said. “But it will help us make some extra money on the side. The more we have in the bank, the quicker we can buy a place together.”
He had a point, so I signed the contract that came through my email and sent along the required photographs. A photo of me in pajamas. A photo of me in workout clothes. A photo of me in an apron. A photo of me in a towel.
A few weeks later, a box arrived on my doorstep filled with little plugs. They looked like those square phone charger blocks. We were meant to plug one into every room of our place, based on the labels.
I started with my small, cluttered kitchen. Once I fit the prongs in the hole, a hologram of my boyfriend appeared, holding a spatula with a goofy smile on his face. It was bizarre. Like looking at a full-size photograph. A wax figure.
I rushed around the rest of the apartment to test out the other plugs. In the living room, he had on baggy workout clothes. In the bathroom, he had on a low-hanging towel. In the bedroom, he had on loose, flannel pajamas.
“You look good,” I texted him. “Creepy. But good.”
When I was a kid, my sister used to have a cardboard cutout of a Backstreet Boy in her bedroom that scared the crap out of everyone when they walked through the door. The holograms reminded me of that. I would turn the corner and suddenly see my boyfriend there, staring. It was terrifying — but also kind of adorable once I got used to the idea. It made me miss him more. It made me daydream about what our life would be like once we were able to move into a home together.
After a few weeks of staring at his holograms instead of the real him, I showed up at his place unexpected. I let myself into his private dorm room with a key he’d given me, wanting to set up a meal before he got home to surprise him.
When I turned on the lights, the holograms booted up. I was excited to see my pictures in full-size, to see how I looked wearing my cute workout clothes and PJS — but my hologram was standing there, completely naked.
I recognized the pose immediately. I had sent him a naked photo for our last anniversary with my hair and makeup done the same way. He must have sent my photo to the company behind my back. It felt like a complete invasion of privacy. He could have at least put the naked hologram in the bedroom. If someone came over, this was the first thing they’d see. Had they seen? Had he shown this to friends? Why wouldn’t he tell me about it? If he asked, I might have said yes.
I moved into the next room, flipped the light switch, and watched another hologram spark to life. She had blonde hair. Blue eyes. Olive skin. Nothing like me.
“Who the fuck is that?”
I tore my eyes away from her body to examine her face. I recognized her as a girl from his classes. He’d posted a few group photos with her on Instagram when they went out to bars on weekends, but he said they were only friends.
Heart pounding, I checked the other rooms to see if the rest of the girls looked like her or me. But they didn’t look like either of us. They were each different. Each girls he’d told me not to worry about. I didn’t know whether he actually slept with them or whether he was only fantasizing about it. It didn’t matter.
I ripped every single plug from its outlet, stuffing them into my purse, then drove home to burn them all. To burn him from my memory.